Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show is diversifying the fashion industry

Last Friday, Amazon Prime released Rihanna’s “Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2,” and the fashion show quickly gained attention for its diverse lineup of models.

Although Rihanna has previously been known to embrace racial diversity with her Fenty Beauty makeup line, the Savage X Fenty collection received praise for showcasing not only racial, but body diversity as well.

“We want to make people look good and feel good,” Rihanna said in a statement on the Savage X Fenty website. “We want you to feel sexy and have fun doing it.”

The collection, which includes lingerie to fit almost every body type, was modeled by those various body types in the recent fashion show.

Zyshonne Harris, broadcast and communication senior, said he was shocked when he saw pictures from the show circulating on social media.

“She included everybody,” he said. “It was shocking to see because I hadn’t seen it before.”

Harris loved seeing people of every color not just included, but equally represented. Instead of the token person of color in a sea of white models, Black, Hispanic, Asian and other races were all celebrated.

A wide range of body types were likewise included. Historically, the modeling industry has pushed the message that “you’re only sexy if you’re skinny,” Harris said. But Rihanna’s fashion show went against the norm by showing skinny, thick, big and small models as equally sexy.

If Rihanna thinks you’re sexy, who can argue?

Dustin Harp, women’s and gender studies program director, said the fashion show demonstrates greater diversity than the industry has ever seen before.

“We’re on an upward trajectory of body positivity and acceptance of diversity,” she said. “It does make a big statement.”

Historically, other prominent lingerie lines like Victoria’s Secret have clung to the tall, skinny, size 0 standard of beauty. Now, Savage X Fenty showcases both male and female plus-size models.

Many social media users quickly noted the polar opposite model lineups.

Audio production senior Morgan Gardner said she’s happy to see plus-size male models finally getting a turn in the spotlight. Regarding underwear specifically, she’s never seen that type of representation because male models are generally expected to sport six-packs and bulging biceps.

On top of seeing a variety of body types and skin tones, the lineup opened the door wider to queer representation, Gardner said. Willow Smith, a bisexual, polyamorous singer, also appeared in the show. It was comforting to see Rihanna create a safe space with her platform, Gardner said.

A number of other celebrities appeared in the show, including Lizzo, Cara Delevingne, Normani, Rosalía, Gigi Goode and Margie Plus.

Although the number of famous body positivity activists and models of color made an obvious statement, Harp questioned the amount of celebrity cameos instead of regular, everyday people, especially the white women known to fit traditional beauty forms.

“Let’s be honest, Paris Hilton and Bella Hadid, they are not breaking any stereotypes,” she said. “While [Rihanna] is certainly bringing some diversity to the stage, it’s still also following in the realm of celebrity and standard beauty. [They’re] not your average people.”

Even Demi Moore, as a woman over 50 years old, is still a typical Hollywood personality who’s artificially enhanced her physical appearance to fit a traditional beauty standard, she said.

Some may argue there’s no need to entirely eradicate the stereotypical perception of beauty (tall, slender white women), but Harp said there is a need to bring other body types and skin tones to the center stage.

Rihanna is moving the industry one step closer to that goal.

“I don’t think we’re going to go back too much,” Harp said. “We’re not going to go back to what Victoria’s Secret has been doing for decades.”

The fact that we’re seeing this change from Rihanna, a Black woman, shows that she understands marginalization in a way that white people or straight men can’t, Harp said.

“When we start to look at so many companies, no matter if it’s fashion or any other industry, we’re looking at mostly white men sitting at the top,” she said. “It’s like in television and at the movies; we often see male fantasies.”

The more we can have people like Rihanna leading these companies, the more we will see change, Harp said.

But consumers must vote with their money, she said. If you want to see companies broadcasting diversity, consumers must financially support them and dump the companies who don’t fit their ideals.

“We all have more power than we think,” Harp said. “Not just through voting when it comes to an election, but voting with how we spend our money.”

Harris said he foresees other companies in the modeling industry following Rihanna’s lead. Otherwise, consumers will call them out. There’s no longer any reason to support companies that aren’t inclusive, he said.

“Change is going to come because of [Rihanna] making people step up or step back,” he said.

As people use their voices and their wallets to support diversity and positivity, other marginalized communities will be able to find acceptance, Gardner said.

She said one community that should have been represented better was people with disabilities. Although she loves seeing plus-size and Black models, there’s still a world of people who don’t walk, people with cochlear implants, people with mental disorders and so many other levels of ability who deserve to see themselves represented, too.

“Seeing that type of different diversity, not just racially but physically, is something that I think will start making an impact,” she said. “Yes, it’s ‘just lingerie,’ but it’s people owning their bodies and celebrating their bodies that [aren’t] usually celebrated.”

With Victoria’s Secret, people wanted to see tall, skinny white girls, Gardner said. Now, that standard of beauty is breaking.

“There's so many people out there, so many disenfranchised people who don’t have a platform yet,” she said. “We could always push for more, and there’s always going to be room for more.”

While Savage X Fenty is a positive step, more must be done, Gardner said. Rihanna can’t do it all.



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